We are fast approaching the point in our trip that Scott has anticipated with some anxiety. Soon, very soon, on most days he’ll be wearing a long fabric tube wrapped around his hips and tied in a knot at the waist. People wear them in many countries in Asia. In India, they’re called lungis, in Burma it’s a longyi, in Indonesia a sarong. But in Canada we’d just call it a skirt. Also, wearing a longyi won’t work well with his light hikers, either. So he’s been practicing wearing flip flops, which he hates. But he’s coping.
We know there are some of Scott’s favourite colleagues back home that have been waiting to see these photos – you know who you are. So there… laugh it up.
Those of you, however, with the experiential wisdom of having traveled in the East will vouch for their cool and comfortable design. The point of our buying longyis is that we’ll need them when we go to Burma. We have been scheduled to conduct a 10-day Vipassana course at Dhamma Joti, the Vipassana meditation centre in Yangon. This isn’t confirmed yet. But more on that in a later post.
Friends who know about such things suggested that we buy our longyis in Indonesia. Famous for Batik and the high-quality of its cotton, Indonesian fabrics are prized all over Asia by those who wear longyis. Yogyakarta is also a big centre for Batik crafts, so we decided to purchase them there. Not an easy task. We don’t really know what to ask for, or even what to look for. Design, quality, gender distinctions, all of these important things are unknown to us. Luckily someone came to our assistance. Lutfi is a terrific young tour guide who led our neighbourhood tour along the river. She also happened to be our expert and knowledgeable guide for our motorbike tour of the local temples. So we asked her for help buying sarongs. She was skeptical that she knew enough to help us, but we were utterly confident that she has forgotten more about batik fabric than we will ever know. We turned out to be correct. Lutfi and her friend Citra were the perfect help. They took us shopping and we found exactly what we wanted. We would have been lost (figuratively, but also literally) without their help.
We had a lovely time with Lutfi and Citra. On our last day in Yogya, we got a cryptic text message from Lutfi. “Hey Karen and Scott. What time are you leaving for your train?” Scott wrote back, “We leave our hotel at 8:30pm.” But then there was no further response…. Was Lutfi planning to swing by and say goodbye before we leave? It wouldn’t be surprising. We have found Javanese people to be among the kindest and most hospitable we’ve met. But as each hour ticked by, there was no further communication.
But then, while we walked back to our hotel after having our last dinner in Yogya we heard our names being called…. “Karen! Scott!” We turned around and it was Lutfi. She had two bags in her hand, held out in front of her. “I wanted to give you this goodbye present.”
What was inside? Four bags of tempeh chips, our new favourite treat. While enjoying a coffee and snack together earlier in the week, we had mentioned to Lutfi how much we liked tempeh, especially the fried tempeh chips. We told her jokingly we wanted to start importing them to Canada. They are so frickin’ good, you have no idea. Like potato chips, but made with tempeh. Packed with protein and tasty fried goodness, they are very addictive.
Lutfi gave us four bags for our over night train journey. The perfect, thoughtful gift. Thank you Lutfi.
The train journey was a little uncomfortable, but not too bad. The worst thing was they keep bright lights on all night and it was really cold! With the AC blasting the whole time, in addition to using the complimentary blankets, one passenger got particularly innovative in his efforts to keep warm. At one point in the night, Scott couldn’t sleep and was looking around. He saw what looked like a guy wearing a tea cozy or large oven mitt on his head. With nothing else to do, Scott spent a few minutes observing the situation more closely. What the guy had done was take his baby daughter’s baby-carrier thingy, usually worn by strapping the baby and contraption to the mum or dad’s chest, and put it on his head, instead He wrapped the padded straps around his shoulders. He had different styles of wearing the baby-cozy. Sometimes he wore it like a baseball hat, with the lip of the baby sack hanging out over his brow, shading his eyes from the bright lights. At other times he wore the thing like an oven mitt, with his head shoved up inside it, to keep him warm while he played a football game on his smart phone. He did all of this with the nonchalance of someone simply wearing a perfectly ordinary toque. Scott woke Karen up and we had a bit of a quiet laughing fit for several minutes. It was terribly cute.
We’re now in the world’s fourth largest city, Jakarta, relaxing at our ‘home’ for the next few days, The Maritim Guesthouse. It’s a magnificent place in south Jakarta. They were full when we inquired about one of their eight rooms, so the owner, Don, told us he could put us in the small cottage they have in the garden out back. He said they would put us in the main house when a space came available.
Little did Don know that the cottage is perfect for us. We have no neighbours and we’re on our own. Plus, the internet is the fastest we’ve had since we left Canada. We’re in heaven. We even have CNN (hello Andersen Cooper and Wolf Blitzer) and Al Jazeera. Sigh. Perfect.
To top it off, there is a wonderful little mall within a 20-minute walk with endless restaurant choices and, wait for it…. STARBUCKS! Happy dance.
We are very lucky. We are constantly reminded of how much we have and the importance of generosity. When we were visiting our friend Siew in Malaysia, she took us to visit the meditation centre she attends in Penang. It’s called Bodhi Heart. She learned a type of Vipassana meditation there and would go regularly to sit with fellow meditators and to hear talks given by visiting teachers, some of whom are monks from other places in Asia.
It’s a pretty place, peaceful and quiet. The main office has an entire wall of books on various subjects related to meditation. When we were there there were a couple of monks visiting the centre from Thailand. As we perused the books, looking at the few they had in English, one of the monks was introduced to us. He talked to us about Vipassana and what it meant to him. Very interesting. After speaking with him, we picked up a book that we’ve been carrying and reading along the way since then. It’s by one of the most famous Thai meditation teachers, Ajahn Chah. He was known for using skillful verbal illustrations to underscore the teaching point he was making. The small book is a collection of some of his best-known little stories. One of the stories in particular really stuck with us, so we include it here for you:
Rowf! Rowf! Rowf!
“I once saw a dog who couldn’t eat all the rice I had given it, so he lay down and kept watch over the rice. He was so full he couldn’t eat any more, but he still lay keeping watch right there. He would drift off and get drowsy, and then suddenly glance over at the food that was left. If any other dog came to eat, no matter how big or how small, he’d growl at it. If chickens came to eat the rice, he’d bark: Rowf! Rowf! Rowf! His stomach was ready to burst, but he couldn’t let anyone else eat. He was stingy and selfish.
“People can be the same way. If their minds are overcome by the habit patterns of greed, anger, fear, and delusion, then even when they have lots of wealth they’re stingy and selfish. They don’t know how to share it. I’ve thought about this and it struck me how much they’re like common animals. They don’t have the virtues of human beings at all. The Buddha called them manussa-tiracchano: human common-animals. That’s the way they are because they lack good will, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity.”
A pretty heavy message, we know. But we think of this quite often as we travel around. The first time Karen read the story, she was particularly struck by its message. That very day we’d been rolling about being “ripped off” by a taxi driver. He likely makes just 2 or 3 dollars per trip. Why not just pay the taxi driver more than a local would pay? And why not do so gladly? We’re not rich, obviously, but we have enough to travel around for a year-long sabbatical; that’s something the vast majority of the world’s people would never be free to do.
Our own bellies are very full. We have enough.
But it’s easy to get caught up in our daily miseries, to think only of what we don’t have, what we might lose. Sometimes this leads us to become fearful and cautious and we forget to be generous with others. We make the mistake of thinking that giving to others makes us poorer. It doesn’t. Generosity always makes us richer. Our fear makes us poor. Our greed makes us poor. As we travel from place to place, we continually benefit from the bottomless generosity of the people we meet. It’s not just about money. People have been generous with their assistance, their time, goodwill, friendship and warmth. People have driven us around, hosted us in their homes, prepared or paid for our meals, and shared their culture with us. At times we feel like we float along in a constant stream made buoyant by the generosity of others.
Now we have just two more days in Indonesia. We have loved our time here. And a big part of our affection for the country has to do with the opportunity to serve at Dhamma Java. We hope some day to return and serve there again.
Next stop for us is a one night layover in Thailand – we’ll be staying at the fancy airport hotel before we fly back to Nepal. We can’t wait to see all our friends in Kathmandu.
After about three weeks, we leave Nepal for India over land via Lumbini. There we will begin a 24-day pilgrimage of the historical Buddha sites in northern India before heading to Jaipur where we will sit a 30-day Vipassana course. Dhamma Thali, the Vipassana centre in Jaipur, is one of the oldest and most established meditation centres in our meditation tradition, and it should prove a very interesting place…